What a title! It’s the title of the book I have just finished reading. It was written by Simon Goldhill. He’s Professor of Greek Literature and Culture and Fellow and Director of Studies in Classics at King’s College, Cambridge and in addition he is Director of the Cambridge Victorian Studies Group.
But despite all his academic qualifications the book is very readable and very personal to him. His premise is to visit the homes of authors to discover what it is that attracts pilgrims to want to visit these houses and to try to find out just what they get from such visits.
Encouraged by his publisher to “do something Victorian” he plumped for visiting writers’ houses but is extremely sceptical about his proposed ‘pilgrimage’. Apparently, such a tour was a very Victorian pastime and in the first chapter, “The Golden Ticket”, he tells of his intention to travel in as near a Victorian manner as possible and that unlike pilgrims he doesn’t wish to travel alone but with his wife and friends. Finally he lists which properties he’ll visit. He chose Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford in the Scottish Borders; Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount, William Wordsworth’s homes in the Lake District; the Bronte Parsonage at Haworth, here in West Yorkshire; William Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford upon Avon; and finally, Freud’s House in Hampstead.
My impression after reading this book was that SG felt justified in his initial reaction that visiting writers’ homes was a pointless exercise and that the house/writer that got it most ‘right’ was Sir Walter Scott who built the house and decorated it intentionally in order to promote himself and his novels. His description of the visit to Abbotsford (and that of A. N. Wilson in my copy of Writers and their Homes) has encouraged me add it to my ‘list’.
“Abbotsford!” so writes A. N. Wilson “There is perhaps no writer’s house more expressive of its occupant’s literary personality. Indeed, one could say that Abbotsford was an extension of Scott’s oeuvre –an architectural Waverley novel, or a poem in stone of Border life and history.”
I love to visit authors’ homes but I never before thought of myself as a pilgrim. I suppose I like to visit houses full stop and the added attraction of it being an author’s home is that I can experience the atmosphere and see the surroundings that may (or may not) have influenced his or her work.
I have several books to help me in my choice of ‘pilgrimage’ to writers’ houses!
I would make quite a different choice for my own tour: Lamb House in Rye (Henry James); The Boat House at Laugharne (Dylan Thomas); Monk’s House at Rodmell in East Sussex; Kipling’s Bateman’s also in East Sussex; Thomas Hardy’s Higher Bockhampton and Max Gate, Dorchester.
Here are five that I have visited in the last few years :
Shandy Hall, Coxwold, North Yorkshire (Tristram Shandy)
Keats House, Hampstead, London (John Keats)
Greenway, River Dart, Devon (Agatha Christie)
Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire (Lord Byron)
Johnson’s House, City of London (Dr Samuel Johnson)